7 US Presidents With the Shortest Stints in the Oval Office

In October 2022, Liz Truss became Britain’s shortest prime minister, stepping down after just six weeks in office. With his hasty departure, Truss joined the ranks of the world’s shortest terms as head of state.

It’s hard to imagine anyone beating President Pedro Lascuráin, who held Mexico’s highest office for less than an hour in 1913 (it was planned as part of a coup). There was also the Duke of Angoulême, who abdicated the throne of France in 1830 after a blink and you missed him 20 minutes as King Louis XIX.

Here is a list of the seven US presidents with the shortest White House stints.

1. William Henry Harrison (32 days)

President William Henry Harrison

President William Henry Harrison died of an acute illness about a month after taking office.

The ninth American president barely lasted a month. William Henry Harrison was not murdered like some of our later entries, but died in 1841 of an acute illness originally diagnosed as pneumonia.

The long-held belief was that Harrison fell ill after delivering a nearly two-hour inaugural speech in wet, freezing weather without a jacket, hat or gloves. But in 2014, epidemiologists concluded that Harrison’s main symptoms – fatigue and severe abdominal distress – pointed to typhoid contracted from contaminated drinking water.

Harrison wouldn’t be the last president to fall victim to Washington, DC’s lack of a sewage system, but he securely holds the title of America’s shortest president.

2. James A. Garfield (199 days)

President James Garfield

President James Garfield, circa 1881. (Print Collector/Getty Images)

On July 2, 1881, President James A. Garfield arrived at Baltimore and Potomac Station in Washington, DC to begin a well-deserved vacation. With his two sons in tow, Garfield was eager to visit his alma mater, Williams College, where he was to deliver a speech. At the time, presidents and their families traveled alone without Secret Service details.

What Garfield didn’t know was that a disgruntled (and unhinged) man named Charles Guiteau had been stalking the president for weeks, hoping to carry out a “god-given” order to kill Garfield to make place to his successor, Vice-President Chester. R Arthur. Guiteau had even bought an ivory-handled pistol that he thought would look great in a museum once the deed was done.

Guiteau shot Garfield twice at close range, with the second bullet lodged in the president’s pancreas. Incredibly, Garfield survived the shooting, but died months later after incompetent doctors failed to remove the bullet, resulting in a agonizing and deadly infection. Garfield finally died on September 19, 1881, one day shy of 200 days in office.

WATCH: The President was shot on HISTORY Vault

3. Zachary Taylor (1 year, 127 days)

President Zachary Taylor (1784-1850) dies at home, surrounded by his wife and son and his colleagues and friends.

President Zachary Taylor (1784-1850) dies at home, surrounded by his wife and son and his colleagues and friends.

President Zachary Taylor was a decorated war hero in the War of 1812 and the Mexican-American War, but it was ultimately a battle with bacteria that killed him.

Taylor, the 12th President of the United States, took office in March 1849. A year later, he attended July 4th celebrations in the nation’s capital on a sweltering summer day. To cool off, he drank glass after glass of ice water. Back home, he reportedly ate “large amounts” of cherries and other fruit washed down with ice milk.

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It’s unclear which of these foods or drinks he did it in, but like President Harrison less than a decade earlier, Taylor experienced excruciating stomach pains, vomiting, and diarrhea. He died on July 9, 1850, of what his doctors diagnosed as cholera, a bacterial infection of the small intestine.

4. Warren G. Harding (2 years, 151 days)

The last photo taken of President Warren G. Harding

President Harding with his wife, Brig. General Sawyer and Secretary Christian, leaving a train for the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, where the President died the next day.

On the evening of August 2, 1923, Warren G. Harding was a popular president preparing for a reelection campaign, when he collapsed in bed in the presidential suite of the Palace Hotel in San Francisco and died from what doctors now consider it a massive heart attack.

Harding suffered from poor health and exhaustion for years, possibly due to an enlarged heart. In the weeks before his death, Harding had embarked on an ambitious speaking tour across the country, including the first presidential visit to the Alaska Territory. He was stricken with food poisoning and took a detour to San Francisco to rest in bed and receive medical attention.

Harding’s sudden death shocked the nation, and the president’s legacy was marred first by revelations that he fathered an illegitimate child, then the Teapot Dome scandal, which exposed kickback schemes wine and large-scale corruption that took place under Harding’s watch.

5. Gerald Ford (2 years, 164 days)

In his own words, Gerald Ford became president “under extraordinary circumstances never before known to Americans.” On August 9, 1974, President Richard Nixon resigned from the presidency over the Watergate scandal. According to the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, this automatically made Ford, Nixon’s vice president, the nation’s 38th president.

President Ford’s tenure was exceptional for other reasons. Two years earlier, in 1972, Nixon had appointed Ford, then a popular Republican congressman, to replace Vice President Spiro Agnew, who had resigned over an unrelated political scandal. This made Ford the only person to serve as both vice president and president without being elected.

In the 1976 presidential election, Ford lost to Democrat Jimmy Carter and left office on January 20, 1977, a term of exactly 895 days.

6. Millard Fillmore (2 years, 238 days)

Like Ford, Millard Fillmore is one of the luckiest presidents on this list, since his short term did not end in death. Fillmore was Zachary Taylor’s vice president and became president in 1850 after Taylor suddenly disappeared following the Cherries and Milk Incident.

Like Taylor, Fillmore was a member of the Whig Party, which formed against Democrat Andrew Jackson in the 1830s. Fillmore’s short tenure coincided with escalating political tensions between slave-owning and free states. . In 1850, Fillmore enacted the Fugitive Slave Act, which imposed fines and jail time on anyone who aided a runaway slave.

When Fillmore’s remaining term ran out, he campaigned for his party’s presidential nomination in 1852, but lost to fellow Whig Daniel Webster. Fillmore was the last Whig president and the last president not to be affiliated with the Democratic or Republican parties.

7. John F. Kennedy (2 years, 306 days)

Like Warren Harding, President John F. Kennedy was a hugely popular president who had just embarked on a week-long national tour to broadcast his political priorities – education, conservation and world peace – in anticipation of a re-election campaign in 1964.

Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963 as his motorcade passed through Dallas, Texas. Shooter Lee Harvey Oswald was quickly arrested and charged with the president’s murder, but Oswald himself was shot by nightclub owner Jack Ruby as he was being transported to the county jail.

As a shocked nation wept, Vice President Lyndon Johnson was hastily sworn in as the 36th president.

WATCH: The Kennedy Assassination: 24 Hours After on HISTORY Vault

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